If you've been reading MFM for awhile, you know that we're all about following the trends that are occurring for the low-budget filmmaker. When we started the magazine in 2005, we spent a lot of time exploring how low-budget filmmakers could make good enough films to be released theatrically. Of course, even though the theatrical model can be a component of group entertainment interaction, we've always known that this couldn't be the main thing that low-budget filmmakers focused on. The accessibility for the micro-budget independent has become even more about breaking in through the private, niche market and backing into theatrical venues through that. A classic example of this notion is David Lynch's famous film, Eraserhead. Shot stylistically and bizarrely on a micro-budget over four long years, it was shown to small audiences, gained a cult following through this niche group, and was then permitted into midnight showings at art theaters where it has been touring ever since. While it probably hasn't made as much as midnight rock stars like Rocky Horror Picture Show or The Holy Grail, it's done a lot of traffic over the years.
As last month's editorial spoke on, we now have new ways to get out to this niche audience in the most exclusive of ways, through individual view screens, on people's personal smart phones like iPhones and droids, or iPads and laptops. This is the world of the Webisode--the Five minute Serial. In this world, content is more important than big budget effects and success can come to almost anyone. We've seen microbudget webisodes like "Irving Renquist: Ghost Hunter" and AJ Wedding's "InFamous" which had limited success, while other microbudget startups like "The Guild" (a show about people addicted to online RPGs which had so little money that it had to beg for Paypal donations its first season) have rocketed to major success. And Hollywood seems no more certain of what will do well than the microbudget does, as shows that have money have had just as much difficulty figuring out the niche that people are looking for in these serials. Strange ones like Paramount's "League of Xtraordinary Dancers" (a show about people who “magically” learn to dance and become super heroes because of it) have met with both critical and financial success, while more creative ones like “Ctrl” (a creative look at a magic keyboard owned by a cubicle based anti-hero) have received rave reviews, but floundered. And, then you have folks like Joss Whedon, who, since Buffy and Angel went off the air, can't keep a show on the air for more than one or two seasons, but is a rock star in the world of online webisodes, with things like Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog shutting down servers due to its popularity upon release. It just goes to show that, in this new world, you might easily find success in places you would least expect it! (Even the World of Depleted films that Viking is releasing will likely be released as serial webisodes which will then be fully integrated in the DVDs.)
However, now we move on to areas that we haven't talked about as much: extended new media. Many of the tools at the low-budget filmmakers disposal are actually well suited to creating other forms of media than just films. While a filmmaker might choose to ignore these options, I believe that doing so is a large disservice to the filmmaker and whatever story he/she is trying to tell.
With the popularity of video DSLRs, for example, filmmakers might easily discover that the 2 MP images that are recorded in the 1080P video stream can make beautiful, surreal comic book panels, when taken into Photoshop and multiple layers of overlay effects are applied. This could easily mean that filmmakers could be making comics of their work, without having to find a comic inker to do so. (As a previous editorial mentioned, the folks behind the CBS' Jericho franchise, when they couldn't get the greenlight for a third season on network TV, took their third season to the comics. A reminder that the road of comics is a potent one.) For folks who don't want to create comic books with CreateSpace (or other print-on-demand) services, software programs that permit you to create digital comic books complete with animation are becoming popular. (With a little know how, these can be released as apps for everything from iPhones and iPads to Windows Portable OS, allowing these stories and their words to get out to people who might've never looked at them before.)
Additional elements that are being explored are multimedia experiences and things that might tie into live events for films or for the stories filmmakers are trying to tell. Things like role playing games, alternate reality gaming (usually based of GPS coordinates and small prizes hidden in the real world), flash mobs, video games, and many other forms of new media expressionism are being explored by low-budget filmmakers. And, with the power of things like Flash CS5.5 (reviewed in this issue), more and more people have access to things they've never had access to for these elements.
In the World of Depleted Creative Community, in addition to film content, we're exploring stories, novellas, comics, role playing game development, LARP (Live Action Role Playing), and potential video game creation. We're even looking at the possibility of a “Survive the Fall” app for iPhone, which will train people in different forms of secret combat arts for surviving the Fall of mankind. Each form of new media adds a level of exploration for fans and contributors alike, allowing people to more fully live in this world. The more interactive a story world can be made, the more people can feel personally involved in it.
At the end of the day, it doesn't take a big budget to get people invested in the stories we're trying to tell. It does take some hard work, but it might easily be that virtually the same amount of work could explore some of the new media elements and make your story more compelling to viewers. The truth is, at the end of the day, it's not about working harder, it really is about working smarter!
Hopefully this editorial encourages you to look to some of the different opportunities in other forms of media that your story may wish to take. For MFM's part, we will be spending more time exploring these elements of new media to help make you aware of some of the options and some of the possibilities you may wish to examine. As such, in addition to things like NAB and Sundance, look for exciting new coverage of things like Comic-Con, the Alternate Press Expo, and Gen-Con from the perspective of the low-budget filmmaker looking to expand into these new areas.